How To Set Boundaries Postpartum

By Published On: April 5th, 2023

Your family and friends mean well, but the unannounced visits and baby advice can quickly become overwhelming. Here’s how to carve out personal space while leaning on your inner circle for support.

There’s so much to think about in the days and weeks after you give birth. The last thing you want to add to the list is figuring out how to tell your overbearing aunt that you just aren’t up for a visit (or her dissertation-long monologue on sleep training!).

That’s why setting boundaries in the early days of postpartum is key for your mental health and overall wellness as a new parent. But how do you establish where the lines are drawn while still maintaining a postpartum support system of loved ones you can turn to for, well, support? We talked to doulas Cosima Wright and Anathea Abele of Bay City Doulas, a doula agency in the San Francisco Bay Area, to get their advice on striking a balance that works for you. Let them guide you on setting healthy boundaries now so that you can reap the benefits for years.

Q: What Issues With Boundaries Do New Parents Tend To Come Up Against?

A: Typically, first-time parents feel like those around them who’ve already had kids might know better. Because of this, they don’t listen to their instincts or don’t dare to speak up. They can forget that they are the ones who ultimately know what’s best for their family. In addition, there are so many different ways to care for and raise children, so new parents will often hear unsolicited, conflicting opinions and words of advice. This makes them feel even more insecure and unsure of what to do. In fact, many new parents will go against their instincts and wishes and take advice that may not work as well for their families. That’s why setting healthy boundaries is so important.

Q: When Is the Best Time To Set Those Boundaries?

A: Before birth! This can significantly help ease how overwhelmed you feel postpartum. You may not know exactly what you’ll need or what you want your postpartum period to look like, and that’s OK. Start by asking yourself: What would you like your support system to look like? How often would you like visitors? And who do you feel would be best to turn to for advice? In addition, it’s a good idea to do some reflecting, too. Consider what will be most important to you when you bring home your baby: Is it having family around? Enlisting the help of a postpartum doula? Having time for just your new family unit? It’s always OK to change what you would like when the moment comes, but having a predetermined plan gives you structure and reassurance that your needs will be met postpartum.

Q: How Do You Actually Establish Clear Boundaries?

A: After you think through your plan, talk with your friends and family about how you envision your postpartum period. Open communication is everything. It is crucial to be clear about your expectations and not be afraid to step up for your own family, as this time is about you. (Fellow people-pleasers, take note!) Again, doing so early on will ensure that you aren’t having difficult conversations while in the postpartum haze and dealing with the constant juggle of life with a newborn.

Q: How Can You Ask for Support While Keeping Your Boundaries?

A: You can write out a list of practical tasks and stick them somewhere visible in your home before you go into labor so visitors and support people (i.e., family and caregivers) have a few ideas of ways to help you after birth. That list can include everything from laundry to food prep to dog walking to entertaining older siblings. A meal train can also be set up beforehand by a family member or friend. Meal trains are fantastic and can help to lighten the load once baby arrives. And, of course, we recommend hiring a postpartum doula to make sure that your family’s direct needs are met on a day-to-day basis.

Q: What Are Some Efficient Responses Should You Get Unsolicited Advice on Feeding, Routines, Sleep, etc.?

A: Have a phrase handy, like one of the following:

“Thank you for your advice, but we are in the process of finding our rhythm as new parents. I will let you know if I would like advice or suggestions in the future.”

“At this time, we are following the advice of our pediatricians and lactation consultants.”

“Thank you for wanting to help! Right now, I would love your support by listening and being an extra set of hands.”

Q: How Can You Respond to Relatives Wanting To Stay With You Postpartum To Help Out With the Baby?

A: This can be a tough one! First, you need to decide how you feel about that kind of visitation and communicate clearly if you’d prefer to shorten their time or prevent family from staying in your home after delivery. You can try your version of something like, “We appreciate your offer to stay with us to help. We have decided that we would like to limit extended visits in the first three months to have time to bond as a family. How about you come for x amount of days instead?”

Q: Any Advice for Dealing With Unexpected Visits?

A: One option is to email or text your circle beforehand explaining your visiting guidelines. You can even put a note on your front door expressing your expectations and wishes. For example: “Thank you for coming to visit us! Please call ahead before dropping by as Mom and baby are resting. At this time, we are asking that scheduled visits are limited to an hour. If you wish to help while you are here, please look at the list on the fridge for tasks that will help!”

Q: Is It Ever Too Late To Set Boundaries?

A: Not at all. Setting boundaries later down the line is something we see often happening, as parents may hit a wall and need some change. While this can be slightly more difficult, it is possible. Once again, it’s about having open and honest conversations about prioritizing your physical and emotional needs with the people around you. Remember that this is your baby, your family—only you know what is best for you!